art by Jeffrey Redmond
My People, My People
by Stacey Danielle Lepper
Open Letter to the People of Te Ao:
Friends--for you are all my friends. Even those who think of me as your enemy, as one who would speak against what you believe in, to try to destroy the very foundations of your society. You are all my friends. You just do not know it yet.--
Friends. It has been twenty long years. I have been in this cold, dark, and dank hole for twenty years. It has not been without trial and tribulation. It has not been without despair and madness. It has not been without grieving and anger. It has not been without agony and heartbreak.
It has not been without Hope.
I still Hope and I pledge to you all that I will always Hope.
As I pledge to you, so too I request a pledge of your own. If it is getting hard out there--and I do not know, I have heard no news--pledge to me, nay, pledge to yourselves that you will keep to the Code.
I cannot stress this enough. It is the only way forward for Te Ao.
Respect. Non-violence. Satyagraha.
It is difficult. It will be difficult. You must remember that you will one day shake the hand of the man who strikes you.
Remember Ghandi of Earth, Forynch of Pelsilon, and Tulatiah of Delta-6679. Take solace in your remembrance, friends. The time for Te Ao is coming.
Peace unto you all.
Amua set down the stylus beside the tablet. He would have preferred ink pen and paper, something lasting, but as scarce a commodity as they were on Te Ao--the vintage LCD tablet would have to suffice. He wrote and wrote. Open letters to the public, letters to his wife, letters to his children. When the letter was done, it would sit on the tablet for hours, sometimes days. And then he would erase it.
He fiddled with the stylus. Making certain it was in exact parallel with the edge of the tablet, which in turn was in exact parallel with the edge of his stark metal desk. Twenty years had made him meticulous and obsessive. Or had he been meticulous and obsessive before he had been imprisoned? Perhaps, but to a much lesser degree, diluted by the vastness of the outside world. In here, it was concentrated and in full effect.
He stood. Slowly. He did everything as slowly as possible these days. Filling in time. Walking across the small cell, he stopped in front of a wall, blank but for thousands of rust-colored lines. He pricked his finger with a needle fashioned from an old broken stylus and added one more line to the wall. 7122. He repeated the total of the tally to himself three times. Once, they had washed the wall.
"Amua. Exercise time. Stand back from the wall."
Amua glanced up at the grate that acted as his ceiling to smile at Guard Edouard. He always smiled.
"Hey Ed. How's your day going?"
"None of your damn business," Edouard said. Always the same answer. Always with the same hostility.
Amua ignored the request to stand back from the wall. He liked the feel of it as it slid past him. Closest to feeling wind he could get.
The labyrinth was blue today. The twists, turns, and dead ends felt vaguely familiar, but it was different every day. He had not completed the same Labyrinth since starting fifteen years ago. He trailed his fingers along the textured wall, savoring the difference from the too-smooth surfaces of his cell.
All too soon he was back in his cell, having completed the labyrinth circuit. He stood with his back to the wall as it slid shut behind him. His eyes closed as he remembered the blue of the labyrinth. Who knew such happiness lay in a single primary color? He refrained from trying to imagine too many colors at a time these days. It was too overwhelming.
He heard the clanging of footsteps above.
"Thank you, Edouard. That was lovely." He smiled up through the metal lattice.
"Don't thank me. I have nothing to do with the damn labyrinth. More than you maheni deserve, if you ask me."
"Perhaps," Amua said. "Cheaper than catering to an insane man, though."
"True enough. It'd be much easier if we could just leave you to die."
The only things Amua could see beyond his ceiling were the dark heavy soles of Edouard's scaled feet. How he longed to see the man's face.
"It would be much easier for me also, Edouard." Amua murmured quietly.
The clanging footsteps stopped directly above his head. Edouard knelt down and put a beady blue eye to the metal lattice.
"That is the most intelligent thing I have ever heard a human say. It can be arranged, Amua."
"It was just something said in passing. I won't voluntarily die for your convenience."
"A shame, maheni, a shame."
"Do you know the true meaning of 'maheni,' Edouard? Smooth. Unscaled. It does not bother me. I am smooth. I do not have scales as you do."
"No. You are wrong. That is just the definition. The true meaning of 'maheni' is stupid. Unintelligent. Inferior. Unclean. Not worthy."
"It is you who is wrong, friend," Amua smiled up at the piercing blue eye gazing at him from above.
Edouard sighed and stood up.
"I'm not your friend, Amua. No one here is your friend."
As the clanging footsteps faded into the distance. Amua kept smiling. It was the longest Edouard had ever interacted with him. The success made him tremble, and he sat down on his white bed and smiled and smiled.
I thought I had been through the grieving process. I thought I had tricked my mind, tricked my body--it remembers also--that I had lost you forever. You can stay like that for hours, months, I have even been years. Then suddenly the veil is lifted, the illusion shattered, the memories recalled. I hate those days.
But I love those days too.
When it hits you so hard, how much you have lost, how much you have loved, how much you love. Today, I remembered the touch of your palm and grieved for an hour. So smooth, so cool on my face.
I will see you again one day.
I promise you.
I love you, I love you, I love you.
"Amua! Exercise time. Step away from the wall."
Amua looked up from his tablet. The letter to his wife lay slammed on the screen. He did not even feel as if he had written it, it was more like he had pulled up handfuls of himself and slapped and smeared them on the screen, and the words were a consequence of that. Today was a bad day.
The wall slid open. He had not even marked the day today. The black Labyrinth appeared. Fitting, that today should be a black day.
Edouard stamped his feet on the ceiling. "Amua. Exercise time. Do not test me."
"And what if I should test you, friend? What then? Will you come down here? You must know that I would welcome a beating, at least pain is something."
"You still call me friend as you call for me to inflict pain on you, Amua. Strange maheni. However, no. I will not come to your cell. There is no need."
The depression hung upon Amua, like a man carrying his own tombstone.
"I do not feel the need for exercise today, Ed. Please. Let me be."
He turned his attention back to his letter, absorbed in his own grief.
"I'm afraid I can't do that, Amua. This is your last warning."
Amua ignored him. Silence reigned.
But what was that sound? A faint hint of laughter. Amua shook his head. He strained to hear it. The softest sound he could imagine, right on the edges of his hearing. He couldn't even be sure it was truly there. The laughter came the slightest bit louder and faded out again. So like his wife. And yet, so like his children. Without thinking, he stumbled off his chair and into the labyrinth. The laughter taunted him. Growing ever closer and ever further away. The rational part of his brain told him that they would never allow him to see another person, not even the vid of another. The irrational side of his brain told him that he might round the corner and find a video on the wall of his wife and children playing together. How he longed to see them again, how he longed to be assured that the images in his memories were correct. He knew this was a ploy to get him up and exercising, but could they be doing a reward system whereby he got to see an image of his family in exchange for cooperation?
Amua turned every corner, full to the brim with anticipation. Finally, he turned the corner back into his cell and the wall slid shut behind him. He could no longer hear hints of laughter. He stood in the middle of the room in disbelief. He should have known. What use was Hope?
He shakily walked to the bed and sat down on the edge of the bed. His face stony, impassive. Slowly, he lay down on his side and covered his face with his hands. Silence.
At first, his body only shuddered slightly and his crying was barely audible. Soon, the bed shook as loud sobs racked his whole body.
"You bastards, you bastards."